The Transfiguration of the Lord 

Sometimes I think that, because of the limitedness of our minds, we accept a rather small view of Jesus. We think of him as a friend and brother, which is okay, but he is also our Lord and God. The disciples had this problem too, although they had a good excuse: they didn’t have two thousand years of Church history to guide them! So they were definitely familiar with the human side of Jesus: Over the time they had spent with him thus far, they had become close to him and saw him as a friend, a companion on the journey, and a great teacher. But they were always having trouble with his divinity. 

Today’s feast changes all of that for them, and for us as well. If there was any doubt about who Jesus was, it’s gone now. That voice from the cloud is absolutely specific: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” Jesus is the Son of God and his divinity must be embraced and proclaimed. While it can be comfortable for us to have a picture of Jesus that is absolutely human, we must always keep in mind the Transfigured Christ, dazzling white, radiating glory, the lamp shining in a dark place. He is the Son of Man of whom Daniel speaks, and to him belongs dominion, glory, and kingship. If Jesus were only human, we would have no Savior, we would have no chance of touching divinity ourselves, that divinity for which we were created. 

On the way to the mountain, the disciples came to know Jesus in his humanity, and on the way down, they came to know Jesus in his divinity. That trip down from the mountain took him to Calvary, and ultimately to the Resurrection, the glory of all glories. Christ is both human and divine, without any kind of division or separation. We must be ready to see both natures of our Jesus, so that we ourselves can transfigure our world with justice, compassion and mercy, in the divine image of our beautiful Savior. No matter what challenges may confront us or what obstacles may appear along the way, we must be encouraged to press on with the words of the Psalmist: “The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth.” 

The Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

The Church gives us this wonderful feast of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, on this, the octave day of Christmas.  In a very real way, the Church still celebrates this day as Christmas day – that’s one of the wonderful things about being Catholic.  We don’t have to cast off Christmas with the wrapping paper; we don’t toss the trees out on the curb on December the 26th; we get to celebrate for many days.  But to celebrate the eighth day of Christmas as the feast of Mary, the Holy Mother of God is a wonderful and appropriate thing to do.  We all know that Mary’s faith made possible our own lives of faith and even more wonderfully made possible the salvation of the whole world and everyone ever to live in it.  She was the one, chosen by God, to see the Gospel come to life before her very eyes.  She held our God in her faithful and loving hands, treasuring each moment in her heart.

So Mary’s faith is a model for us.  We often do not know where God is leading us, but in faith we are called to say “yes” to his plan for us anyway.  How willing are we to do that?  We are often called upon to take a leap of faith, make a fiat, and cooperate with God’s work in our lives and in the world.  Just like Mary, we have no way of knowing where that might lead us; just like Mary, that might lead to heartache and sorrow; but just like Mary, it may lead to redemption beyond belief, beyond anything we can imagine.

And so, yes, Mary is the Mother of God.  And let me tell you, this was a doctrine that came at great price.  People fought over whether a human woman could ever be the mother of God.  How would that even be possible?  But the alternative, really, would be to insinuate that Jesus was not God, because we clearly know that Mary was his mother.  So to say that Mary was not the Mother of God is to say in a very real and theologically dangerous way that Jesus was not God, and we know that’s just wrong.  Jesus was fully human but also fully divine, his human and divine natures intertwined in his person without any separation or division or elevation of one nature at the expense of another.  And so, as theologians teach us, Mary is the Mother of God the Word according to his human nature.  She didn’t give birth to his divine nature; that was begotten by God.  She is not the mother of the First or Third Persons of God; she is the mother of the Second Person, God the Word.  Sister Sarah made us memorize all this in seminary, and every once in a while, when I’m feeling particularly theologically courageous, I reflect on this doctrine and marvel at its beauty.

So, Mary is the Mother of God, but Mary is also the Mother of the Church, leading its members to her son Jesus and to faith in God.  She is mother of priests, caring for us in a special way and interceding for the faithful work of our calling.  She is the mother of mothers, interceding for them and showing them how to nurture faith in their children.  She is the mother of the faithful, showing us how to cooperate fully with God’s plan.  She is mother of Scripture scholars and those who just love the Scriptures, having seen the Word unfold before her and treasuring it in her heart.  She is the mother of disciples, having been the first of the disciples and the most dedicated of them all.  She is the Mother of God, and our mother, and we cannot sing our Christmas carols without singing her praises too.  We honor her faith and example today, and we ask for her intercession for our lives, for our families, for our Church and our world.

Pray for us, o holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Today’s readings

I wonder if this solemnity of Christ the King is one to which many people can relate these days.  In our day, many people don’t recognize or accept any authority outside of their own personal opinion of what is okay, let alone grasp the concept of a monarchical, top-down method of government.

And even if we were looking for a king, what kind of king is this?  Our gospel reading today presents a picture of a king who, objectively speaking, seems to be rather a failure.  This is not a king who lived in a lavish palace and expected the blind obedience of all those around him.  This is not a king who held political office, or led a great army.  His message has always been quite different than that, and now we see him hanging on the cross between two hardened criminals.  That one of them thinks to ask Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom is almost laughable.

This wasn’t the kind of king the Jews were expecting, of course.  They were, indeed, expecting and eagerly awaiting an Anointed One, but never one like this.  Their whole picture of a Messiah had been one of political greatness and military strength, one who would restore the sovereignty of Israel and reestablish Jerusalem as the great political and religious city that it had once been.  That was the Messiah they were looking for, but what they got was one who was so much of a suffering servant that he ended up on a cross.  Pilate’s inscription, “This is the king of the Jews” was sarcastic and completely offensive to them, which of course is exactly what he intended.

So it’s easy to see why the Jews might not have noticed that this one was their king.  It’s easy enough to even see why they would have chosen to ignore his kingship.  But we can’t be like that: we have heard the Word proclaimed all year long and we know that this is the way that God chose to save the world.  We have to be the ones to proclaim that Jesus is the king of our reality, not of our fantasy, and we recognize that he is not ashamed to herald the cross as the gateway to the kingdom and the instrument of our salvation.  Indeed it was the cross that lifted him up to his kingship, and so embracing the cross is the way of life for all of us who want to enter into the kingdom.

And we have to admit that we are a people who need a king like this.  We might want a king to give us greatness and rest from our enemies, but that’s not real.  What’s real is our suffering, whether it’s illness, or grief, or job dissatisfaction, or personal troubles, or family strife, or broken relationships, or any other calamity.  Suffering happens, so maybe that’s why Jesus chose the image of the Suffering Servant as the motif of his kingship.  Saint Paul says today in our second reading from his letter to the Colossians that “in him all things hold together.”  Even when the world seems to be falling apart for us, we can trust in the Suffering Servant to walk with us and hold everything together.

And so, as preposterous as it may sound to others, we know that Christ is our King.  His Kingship, he says in another gospel, is not of this world.  No, he was not a king who came with great fanfare, oppressing peoples and putting down vast armies.  No, he was not the king who restored Israel to the Davidic monarchy that began in our first reading.  His power was not exercised over the political forces of this world, as much as it was exercised over the forces of evil in the world.  He is the King who conquered, once and for all, the things that really plague us: evil, sin and death.  His Kingdom was not defined by his mortal life, but in fact begins just after he gives up that mortal life.  Unlike earthly kings, his power is everlasting.

In our day, this feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the universe has us reasserting Christ’s sovereignty over all powers of cynicism, relativism, and apathy.  Jesus Christ our King is, as he says in another place, “the way, the truth, and the life” and there is no other way to the Father, no other way to the kingdom, no other way to life eternal than to take up our cross and follow our King through the sadness of sin and brokenness, through the pain of death, to the glory of his kingdom.  And so we have to say with boldness and conviction on this day that one religion isn’t as good as another; that it’s not okay to skip Mass to go to your child’s basketball game; that Sunday isn’t just a day to sleep in, or shop the malls, but rather a day to worship our King who is the only One who can give us what we really yearn for; what this life is all about.

And so this is how we wrap up our Church year.  Next week we begin anew, the first Sunday of Advent.  On this last Sunday of the year, it makes sense that we stop for a minute, and look back at the year gone by.  How has it been for us?  Have we grown in faith?  Have we been able to reach out to the poor and needy?  Has our faith really taken root in our lives, have we been people who witness to the truth with integrity and conviction and fearlessness?  Have we put our King first in our lives or have we been worshipping false gods, attaching our hopes to impotent kings, recognizing false powers, and wandering off the path to life?

If we have been lax about our faith this year, if we have given ourselves to relativism and apathy, then this is the time to get it right.  On this eve of the Church’s new year, perhaps we might make new year’s resolutions to worship our King in everything we say and everything we do.  Because nothing else is acceptable, and anything less is offensive to our King who gained his Kingship at the awesome price of his own precious life that we might be able to live with him in his kingdom.  Maybe we can resolve to get to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of obligation, not just when it works out in our schedule.  Or perhaps we can resolve to reinvigorate our prayer lives, making time every single day to connect with our Lord, to seek his guidance in all our endeavors and plans, to strive to catch a glimpse of the Kingdom in the quiet moments of our prayer.  And certainly we must resolve to live the Gospel in its fullness: to reach out to the poor and needy, to live lives of integrity as we participate in our work and in our communities, to love every person God puts in our path.  On this “new Church year’s eve” we must resolve to be followers of the King in ways that proclaim to a cynical and apathetic, yet watching world, that Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords and that there is absolutely no other.

Our prayer on this glorious Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King must be the prayer of Saint Dismas, the “good thief” as he hung upon the cross: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!”

The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

Today’s readings

I remember when I was growing up, often visiting my dear grandmother.  She and I were best friends in so many ways.  I remember when we visited that she had a beautiful framed picture in the living room, given a spot of honor where everyone could see it, and that picture was of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Whenever I think of the Sacred Heart, I remember grandma, whose name was Margaret Mary, named after the saint who promoted veneration of the Sacred Heart in the first place.

And so, today we celebrate, with incredible gratitude, the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Through his most Sacred Heart, the love of God is made manifest among us.  This love is a pervasive love that burns in our hearts and changes our lives and leads us back to the God who made us for himself.  This love is irresistible if we give ourselves over to it.  It is a love that pursues us and a love that can go far beyond whatever distance we have fallen from grace.  It is a love that, seeks out the lost and strayed, and binds up the injured and the sick; and, as St. Paul tells us in the second reading, comes to us not by any merit of our own – God knows! – but only by the free gift of our God who made us precisely to receive this great love.  We who have been loved into existence must love others as we have been loved.  The love of God pours forth from the heart of Christ just as the water and blood poured forth from his side as he hung dead on the cross.  Death could not stop the outpouring of grace that he came to bring.

Today’s Gospel reading gives us a beautiful picture of God.  God is that shepherd who does the unthinkable: leaves the 99 behind to follow their own devices while he seeks out the lost one.  That’s more love than any of us has a right to expect, yet it is freely poured out to us.

Today’s feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus finds us wholly consumed by grace.  We have been loved into existence by our God who made us like himself.  We have been loved into grace by Jesus who gave his life rather than live without us.  And we are being loved into heaven as we give ourselves over to the work of the Holy Spirit who is that love between the Father and the Son.  God is love and today we experience how powerful that love can be if we give ourselves over to it.

Saint Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Today’s readings

You surely recognize these beautiful words:

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.

These words emphasize the divinity of Christ, an essential truth of our faith.  The Liturgy also says: “Through the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”  The Gospels show us time and time again that Jesus came to proclaim his divinity, his oneness with the Father, so as to be the means of salvation.  Almost all of his hearers rejected this message, except for all but one of his disciples, and the centurion who noticed that he was the Son of God as he hung dead on the Cross.

The Arians, led by the priest Arius in the third century, did not believe in Jesus’ divinity.  They believed there was a time before Jesus existed, that he was not consubstantial with the Father, but rather was created by the Father.  This position denies the divinity of Christ, which is an unacceptable position for our faith.  If Christ is not divine, he has no power to save us, and we are still dead in our sins.  God forbid! – And he does forbid it!

St. Athanasius was a great champion of the faith against the harmful teachings of Arius.  But it was a hard battle.  He was exiled not once but actually five times during the fight against Arius’s teachings.  His writings are almost all a great defense of the faith and are so sound that Athanasius was named a Doctor of the Church.

We have St. Athanasius to thank for the wonderful words of our Creed.  We often say them, I think, without a whole lot of thought.  But we need to remember when we pray the Creed that each of those words was the result of dedicated work, intensive prayer, and hard fought defense against heresy.  Because of people like St. Athanasius, we may indeed come to share in the divinity of Christ.

The Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Mother of God

Today’s readings

One of the ways that I think we come to know about ourselves and our families, is the shared memories and stories that our parents and senior members of our families share with us over time.  I always enjoyed hearing stories from my grandparents about Mom and Dad, and my aunts and uncles, when they were growing up.  Now, we get to hear stories about me and my sisters.  Those are sometimes a little harder to enjoy!

I wonder if Jesus felt the same way about the stories about him that Mary must have told.  Luke tells us of all the amazing things that were observed and said about Jesus, even in his infancy, and all these things are what Mary kept and reflected on in her heart.  I think it’s fair to say that she may not have understood all of them at the time, or at least she didn’t know where they were leading, although she certainly knew that her son was someone very special, the Son of God.  And so she keeps all these things and reflects on them in her heart.  She is the first, really, to receive the Gospel – observing it, as it were, while it was happening and unfolding.  And so she is the model for all of us hearers of the Word; we too catch little phrases or episodes that we later reflect on in our hearts.  When we first hear them, it might well be that we don’t understand them.  But we know that we can later reflect on them in our hearts, and the Holy Spirit will reveal their meaning.

The Church gives us this wonderful feast of Mary on this, the octave day of Christmas.  In a very real way, the Church still celebrates this day as Christmas Day – that’s one of the wonderful things about being Catholic.  We get to celebrate this glorious event for many days.  But to celebrate the eighth day of Christmas as the feast of Mary, the Holy Mother of God is a wonderful and appropriate thing to do.  We all know that we are indebted to Mary’s faith, a faith which made possible the salvation of the whole world and everyone ever to live in it.

More than that, Mary’s faith is a model for us.  Much like Mary, we often do not know where God is leading us, but in faith we are called to say “yes” anyway.  How willing are we to do that?  We are often called upon to take a leap of faith, make a fiat, and cooperate with God’s saving plan for us and for others.  Just like Mary, we have no way of knowing where that might lead us; just like Mary, that might lead to heartache and sorrow; but just like Mary, it will lead to redemption beyond belief, beyond anything we can imagine.

And so, yes, Mary is the Mother of God.  And let me tell you, this was a doctrine that came without its price.  People fought over whether a human woman could ever be the mother of God.  How would that be possible?  But the alternative, really, would be to say that Jesus was not God, because we clearly know that Mary was his mother.  So to say that Mary was not the Mother of God is to say in a very precarious way that Jesus was not God, and we know just as surely that that would be incorrect.  Jesus was fully human but also fully divine, his human and divine natures intertwined in his person without any separation or division or degradation of one nature at the expense of another.  And so, as theologians teach us, Mary is the Mother of God the Word according to his human nature.  Every once in a while, when I’m feeling particularly theologically courageous, I reflect on that statement and marvel at its beauty.

So, Mary is the Mother of God, but Mary is also the Mother of the Church, leading its members to her Son Jesus and to faith in God.  She is mother of priests, caring for us in a special way and interceding for the faithful completion of our mission.  She is the mother of mothers, interceding for them and showing them how to nurture faith in their children.  She is the mother of the faithful, showing us how to cooperate fully with God’s plan.  She is mother of scripture scholars and those who just love the scriptures, having seen the Word unfold before her and treasuring it in her heart.  She is the mother of disciples, having been the first of the disciples and the most dedicated of them all.  She is the Mother of God, and our mother, and we cannot sing our Christmas carols without singing her praises too.  We honor her faith and example today, and we ask for her intercession for our lives, for our families, for our Church and our world.

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate the great feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King of the Universe.  It’s one of those feasts that I think we can say, yeah, okay, I believe that.  But it really doesn’t affect me.  I mean, we don’t even have the political reference of being ruled by a king any more.  Not only that, I think we as a society have pretty much bracketed the whole idea of authority.  Basically if an authority gives us permission to do whatever we want, then fine, he or she can be in authority.  But the minute that authority tries to limit us in any way, then whoa: hang on a minute.

Yet there are times when we do want an authority.  Whenever we are wronged, we want an authority to give us justice.  Whenever we are in danger, we want an authority to bring us peace.  Whenever we are in need, we want an authority to bring us fulfillment.  But other than when we need something, we hardly ever seek any kind of authority.  Certainly not as a society, and if we’re being honest, not as individuals.  As an example, take the days after the tragedy of 9-11.  Our whole world was shattered.  I wasn’t here then, but I would be willing to bet the old church was filled to overflowing; I know my home parish was.  In those days, we wanted an authority to bring us peace and comfort and rest.  But now that we’re eleven years on the other side of it, look around.  Not so many people in the pews, right?  If Christ was the authority then, what makes him less of an authority now?  We certainly did not come through those harrowing days with our own feeble efforts, but when we don’t have buildings crashing down around us, we don’t seem to remember that.

Still, the Church gives us this important feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King of the Universe to remind us that there is an authority.  Christ is King in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.  Christ is king of the Universe and king of our own lives.  And if that’s true, we have to be ready to live that way.  So no, we can’t just do whatever we want.  And no, just because we believe something with all our hearts, that doesn’t make it truth.  And no, the idea of living according to our conscience doesn’t mean that it’s okay as long as it works for me.  The world would have us believe that, but the world will one day come to an end.  If we want the possibility of eternity, then we have to be open to the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe!

In today’s first reading, we have the promise of the king: one like a son of man with an everlasting dominion.  This part of the book of Daniel comes from a series of visions. In these visions, particularly the one we have today, Daniel gives the Jews hope in persecution.  This is a vision that is spoken to lift the people up and help them to know that their hope is in God.  The Jews of his day have been being persecuted by the Greek tyrant, Antiochus Epiphanes IV.  He and his henchmen were certainly persecuting the Jews who insisted on living the Jewish way of life.  But what is even more evil and more disastrous to the community, is that some of the Jews were starting to think that giving up their way of life and instead worshiping the gods of the Greeks was a good idea.  They figured if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.  So, why not give up their own faith to follow one that seems to be working better?  The biggest danger they faced was losing their faith to the pagans by adopting pagan ways of life.

We clearly are not under the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, but we are definitely in danger of losing our faith to the pagan forces of this world.  And there are so many seductive ways that pagan forces weasel their way into our lives and tempt us to give in to their power over us.  Relativism and intolerance for Catholic values seem to be winning more souls every day.  Everything that promises us power, success and wealth has the ability to take our hearts and souls with it.  Why not just give in?  Won’t paganism and evil win out in the end?

Well, Daniel sure didn’t think so. He prophesied that there would be one like a Son of Man who would triumph over Antiochus and others like him.  This One would deliver them from the persecution they suffered and from the seduction that confronted them.  This One would rule the world in justice and peace, and would lead the persecuted ones to a kingdom that would never pass away.

The early Church identified this Son of Man with Jesus Christ.  He is the One who has power to rule over all and he is the One whose kingdom is everlasting.  He even referred to himself as the Son of Man, and made it clear that he was the Son of Man who would suffer for the people.  He came to deliver those first Christians from persecution with the promise that he would indeed come again, and that same promise is made to us as well.

But the problem was, he didn’t return right away.  People lost faith, gave in to persecution, and just went with the powerful forces of the day.  The delay in his return led some to believe that he was not returning, and so they should just do what seemed expedient.  Why not go with the victorious pagan forces of the world? Sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it?

As we end this liturgical year and take a look back, maybe we can see some areas for improvement in our lives.  Much like the resolutions we may make January 1st, we may be able to make some resolutions for our spiritual lives in the coming liturgical year.  I don’t mean losing weight or getting more exercise: those you can make in the new calendar year.  But maybe in this liturgical year we could resolve to pray more or work for justice and peace, or reach out to the needy, or truly witness to the faith and live what we believe.  If we were to make some constructive resolutions for our spiritual lives, we could begin to take away the hold the pagan forces in our world have on us.  We could even proclaim with our lives that Christ is our King, personally, and also King of the Universe.

Jesus told Pilate in today’s Gospel that his Kingdom was not of this world.  That should be the red flag for us.  When we begin to worship and follow the forces of this world, we know that we are in the wrong place.  Christ is the King, the Son of Man, who will lead us to a kingdom not made by human hands, a kingdom that will not pass away, a kingdom of justice and peace, a kingdom of love and mercy, a kingdom of grace and comfort, a kingdom of eternal beauty and unfathomable joy.  The choice is ours, though.  Will we follow the pagan forces of this world, or will we follow Our Lord Jesus Christ the King to that perfect and everlasting kingdom, not of this world that will certainly pass away, but the kingdom of eternity and the live of heaven?

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

Today’s readings

I remember when I was growing up, often visiting my dear grandmother.  She and I were best friends in so many ways.  I remember when we visited that she had a beautiful framed picture in the living room, given a spot of honor where everyone could see it, and that picture was of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Whenever I think of the Sacred Heart, I remember grandma, whose name was Margaret Mary, named after the saint who promoted veneration of the Sacred Heart in the first place.

And so, today we celebrate, with incredible gratitude, the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Through his most Sacred Heart, the love of God is made manifest among us.  This love is a pervasive love that burns in our hearts and changes our lives and leads us back to the God who made us for himself.  This love is irresistible if we give ourselves over to it.  It is a love that pursues us and a love that can go far beyond whatever distance we have fallen from grace.  It is a love that, as Moses tells us in the first reading, does not come to us because we are great, but because God has chosen us, and, as St. John tells us in the second reading, must continue to be poured out by us onto the world around us.  We who have been loved into existence must love others as we have been loved.  The love of God pours forth from the heart of Christ just as the water and blood poured forth from his side as he hung dead on the cross.  Death could not stop the outpouring of grace that he came to bring.

Today’s Gospel reading gives us a beautiful picture of God.  God is love, in fact God is a community of love.  The Father and the Son know each other in their loving, and the Holy Spirit then is the love between them.  God is love and creates us in love and sustains us in love.  In love, we long to return to him one day.

Today’s feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus finds us wholly consumed by grace.  We have been loved into existence by our God who made us like himself.  We have been loved into grace by Jesus who gave his life rather than live without us.  And we are being loved into heaven as we give ourselves over to the work of the Holy Spirit who is that love between the Father and the Son.  God is love and today we experience how powerful that love can be if we give ourselves over to it.

 

Our Lord Jesus Christ the King

Today’s readings

I wonder if this solemnity of Christ the King is one to which many people can relate.  In our American society, so many people don’t recognize or accept any authority outside of their own personal opinion of what is okay, let alone grasp the concept of a monarchical, top-down method of government.

And even if we were looking for a king, what kind of king is this?  Our gospel reading today presents a picture of a king who, objectively speaking, seems to be rather a failure.  This is not a king who lived in a lavish palace and expected the blind obedience of all those around him.  This is not a king who held political office, or led a great army.  His message has always been quite different than that, and now today, look at him hanging on the cross between two hardened criminals.  That one of them thinks to ask Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom is almost laughable, but, well, there it is.   There is our king.  This feast leaves us on the very last Sunday of the Church year with more questions than, it would seem, could ever possibly be answered.

This wasn’t the kind of thing the Jews were expecting, of course. They had long been expecting an Anointed One, but never one like this. Their whole picture of a Messiah had been one of political greatness and military strength, one who would restore the sovereignty of Israel and reestablish Jerusalem as the great political and religious city that it had once been. That was the Messiah they were looking for, but what they got was one who was so much of a suffering servant that he ended up on a cross. Pilate’s inscription, “This is the king of the Jews” was sarcastic and completely offensive to them, which of course is exactly what he intended.

So it’s easy to see why the Jews might not have noticed that this one was their king. It’s easy enough to even see why they would have chosen to ignore his kingship. But we can’t miss it: we have heard the Word proclaimed all year long and we know that this is the way that God chose to save the world. There are times, of course, when we could do with a bit more opulence and certainly a lot less suffering. But Jesus is the king of our reality, not of our fantasy, and so he is not ashamed to herald the cross as the gateway to the kingdom and the instrument of our salvation.

And we have to admit that we are a people who need a king like this. We might want a king to give us greatness and rest from our enemies, but that’s not real. What’s real is our suffering, whether it’s illness, or grief, or job dissatisfaction, or personal troubles, or family strife, or broken relationships, or any other calamity. Suffering happens, and that’s why Jesus chose the image of the Suffering Servant as the motif of his kingship. St. Paul says today in our second reading from his letter to the Colossians that “in him all things hold together.” Even when the world seems to be falling apart for us, we can trust in the Suffering Servant to walk with us and hold everything together.

And so, as preposterous as it may sound to others, we know that Christ is our King.  His Kingship, he says in another gospel, is not of this world.  No, he was not a king who came with great fanfare, oppressing peoples and putting down vast armies.  No, he was not the king who restored Israel to the Davidic monarchy that began in this morning’s first reading.  His power was not exercised over the political forces of this world, as much as it was exercised over the power of evil in the world.  He is the King who conquered, once and for all, the things that really plague us: evil, sin and death.  His Kingdom was not defined by his mortal life, but in fact begins just after he gives up that mortal life.  Unlike earthly kings, his power is everlasting.

In 1925, Pope Pius XI, in the face of rising nationalism and Fascism, instituted the Feast of Christ the King to reassert Christ’s sovereignty over all forms of political governance.  Jesus Christ is not just one king among others, but rather he is the King of kings and Lord of lords.  Perhaps, if this feast had been instituted today, our Church might be reasserting Christ’s sovereignty over all powers of cynicism, relativism, and apathy.  Jesus Christ our King is, as he says in another place, “the way, the truth, and the life” and there is no other way to the Father, no other way to the kingdom, no other way to life eternal than to take up our cross and follow our King through the sadness of sin and brokenness, through the pain of death, to the glory of his kingdom.  And so we have to say with boldness and conviction on this day that one religion isn’t as good as another; that it’s not okay to skip Mass to go to your child’s basketball game; that Sunday isn’t just a day to sleep in, or shop the malls, but rather a day to worship our King who is the only One who can give us what we really yearn for; what this life is all about.

And so this is how we wrap up our Church year.  Next week we begin anew, the first Sunday of Advent.  On this last Sunday of the year, it makes sense that we stop for a minute, and look back at the year gone by.  How has it been for us?  Have we grown in faith?  Have we been able to reach out to the poor and needy?  Has our faith really taken root in our lives, have we been people who witness to the truth with integrity and conviction and fearlessness?  Have we put our King first in our lives or have we been worshipping false gods, attaching our hopes to impotent kings, recognizing false powers, and wandering off the path to life?

If we have been lax about our faith this year, if we have given ourselves to relativism and apathy, then this is the time to get it right.  On this eve of the Church’s new year, perhaps we might make new year’s resolutions to worship our King in everything we say and everything we do.  Because nothing else is acceptable, and anything less is offensive to our King who gained his Kingship at the awesome price of his own precious life that we might be able to live with him in his kingdom.  Maybe we can resolve to get to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of obligation, not just when it works out in our schedule, and including those times when we travel (there are Catholic churches pretty much everywhere).  Or perhaps we can resolve to reinvigorate our prayer lives, making time every single day to connect with our Lord, to remember our Sunday worship, to seek his guidance in all our endeavors and plans, to strive to catch a glimpse of the Kingdom in the quiet moments of our prayer.  And certainly we must resolve to live the Gospel in its fullness: to reach out to the poor and needy, to live lives of integrity as we participate in our work and in our communities, to love every person God puts in our path.  On this “new Church year’s eve” we must resolve to be followers of the King in ways that proclaim to a cynical and apathetic, yet watching world, that Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords and that there is absolutely no other.

Our prayer on this glorious Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King must be the prayer of Saint Dismas, the “good thief” as he hung upon the cross: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!” Pray that with me in song…

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

Today’s readings

I remember when I was growing up, often visiting my dear grandmother.  She and I were best friends in so many ways.  I remember when we visited that she had a beautiful framed picture in the living room, given a spot of honor where everyone could see it, and that picture was of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Whenever I think of the Sacred Heart, I remember grandma, whose name was Margaret Mary, named after the saint who promoted veneration of the Sacred Heart in the first place.

And so, today we celebrate, with incredible gratitude, the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Through his most Sacred Heart, the love of God is made manifest among us.  This love is a pervasive love that burns in our hearts and changes our lives and leads us back to the God who made us for himself.  This love is irresistible if we give ourselves over to it.  It is a love that pursues us and a love that can go far beyond whatever distance we have fallen from grace.  It is a love that, as Ezekiel tells us in the first reading, takes us out of the foreign land of our sinfulness and restores us to the promised land of grace, and, as St. Paul tells us in the second reading, is poured into our hearts from the heart of Jesus through the Holy Spirit.  The love of God pours forth from the heart of Christ just as the water and blood poured forth from his side as he hung dead on the cross.  Death could not stop the outpouring of grace that he came to bring.

Today’s Gospel reading gives us a beautiful picture of God’s love for us.  This love seeks out the errant sinner.  The question Jesus asks is a trick question, because not many shepherds would leave ninety-nine sheep behind to seek one out for fear that he’d lose the other ninety-nine too.  But Jesus is the good shepherd, the one who seeks the wandering ones out and dances with joy when they are found.

Today’s feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus finds us wholly consumed by grace.  We have been loved into existence by our God who made us like himself.  We have been loved into grace by Jesus who gave his life rather than live without us.  And we are being loved into heaven as we give ourselves over to the work of the Holy Spirit who is that love between the Father and the Son.  God is love and today we experience how powerful that love can be if we give ourselves over to it.